Purpose: To evaluate the effects of BRAF inhibition on the tumor microenvironment in patients with metastatic melanoma.
Experimental design: Thirty-five biopsies were collected from 16 patients with metastatic melanoma pretreatment (day 0) and at 10 to 14 days after initiation of treatment with either BRAF inhibitor alone (vemurafenib) or BRAF + MEK inhibition (dabrafenib + trametinib) and were also taken at time of progression. Biopsies were analyzed for melanoma antigens, T-cell markers, and immunomodulatory cytokines.
Results: Treatment with either BRAF inhibitor alone or BRAF + MEK inhibitor was associated with an increased expression of melanoma antigens and an increase in CD8+ T-cell infiltrate. This was also associated with a decrease in immunosuppressive cytokines [interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-8] and an increase in markers of T-cell cytotoxicity. Interestingly, expression of exhaustion markers TIM-3 and PD1 and the immunosuppressive ligand PDL1 was increased on treatment. A decrease in melanoma antigen expression and CD8 T-cell infiltrate was noted at time of progression on BRAF inhibitor alone and was reversed with combined BRAF and MEK inhibition.
Conclusions: Together, these data suggest that treatment with BRAF inhibition enhances melanoma antigen expression and facilitates T-cell cytotoxicity and a more favorable tumor microenvironment, providing support for potential synergy of BRAF-targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Interestingly, markers of T-cell exhaustion and the immunosuppressive ligand PDL1 are also increased with BRAF inhibition, further implying that immune checkpoint blockade may be critical in augmenting responses to BRAF-targeted therapy in patients with melanoma.